Living in Japan we get a lot of visitors from home. My sister has visited, my parents, friends from home, friends from university, even friends from other parts of Japan. I love showing people around, being their local guide. Giving my friends and family a tour of the places I love and introducing them to the food and restaurants and sites and sounds of Japan, and in particular Shiga Prefecture and Kyoto, is something that truly brings me joy. Living so far from home, I often miss my family and friends, casually chatting (in casual Canadian English), going out for good food and good times. So when someone from home visits, I love to show them around.
Recently some university friends visited for a few days. So I took them out and showed them around and we did some of my favorite things: karaoke, conveyor-belt sushi, “mochi” rice cakes, and of course I took them to my favorite place in Kyoto- Arashiyama. Arashiyama is located in north-western Kyoto city, running along a beautiful river and nestled at the foot of the Kyoto western mountain range. From JR Kyoto Station, it is about 15 minutes on the Saga-Arashiyama line to JR Arashiyama Station. From there, its a nice 10 minute walk through quaint streets lined with boutiques and handicrafts shops (and even a few thatch roofed houses, including a tatami makers shop) to the riverside area. A gorgeous bridge stretches across the river and we took this to reach my favorite part of Arashiyama- monkey mountain!
Monkey mountain (as I call it) is a monkey park situated at the top of a small mountain. 550 yen gets you park admission, and a 15 minute hike brings you to the peak and the home of the monkeys. As you walk up the path, keep your eyes and ears open for the lookout monkeys- watching for your approach and ready to warn the others that you (and possibly food) are on your way up. Also- keep your eyes peeled for baby monkeys wrestling and rolling around and jumping from tree to tree. One of the things I like most about Arashiyama monkey park is that it is like a reverse zoo. The monkeys are free, and when you get to the top, YOU go into the cage (it’s actually a shack with snacks and a toilet). From inside the shack, you may feed the monkeys (who are looking IN on you, and I’m sure laughing at your misfortune!).
Outside the shack is a semi-circular viewing area, from which you can view a wonderful panorama of Kyoto City, including Tokyo Tower to the south and Mt. Daimonji to the north. In the distance you can see the shadowy outline of Mt. Hiei, over which lies Shiga Prefecture and the location of my English school on Lake Biwa. If you ask nicely, the park staff will take your picture with the alpha male, who sits lazily atop a stump in front of the shack.
Not to sound too obsessed, but I have probably visited Arashiyama and the Arashiyama Monkey Park about 210 times now, and the joy of it never fades. After the hike up and down, I like to take friends to the bamboo forest, maybe for a 40 minute “Romantic Train Ride” along the river, or for some locally hand-churned vegetable ice cream, made from locally grown vegetables.
So next time you have a day off in Kansai, head up to Kyoto and check out Arashiyama, with its quaint shops anmd traditional atmosphere, visit the monkeys, and try some tomato ice cream. You won’t be disappointed!
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu
NOTE: We found this great sign halfway up the path (it was also nice to see almost perfect English! When I go on hikes with my English students, we often discuss ‘bad’ English on signs- its a great English school topic, and great as homework). The fun part is that the “button” is missing. I wonder if those curious monkeys pulled it off!